Chris Hedges Explains How Entire Regions Within the US Are Treated Like Exploited Colonies
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At one point, Camden was an industrial center: Campbell Soup was made there; RCA Victor was there; the ship yards there, by the middle of the century, employed over 36,000 people--it's all gone. There's nothing. Whole city blocks are abandoned. And of course people are trapped within these internal colonies, by both the very visible, and not so visible walls of the Prison-Industrial-Complex. So people fall into a kind of despair: the abuse of narcotics and alcohol, in all of these places, was absolutely rampant. In southern West Virginia people would retreat into Oxycontin, or what they call "Hillbilly Heroin." In Camden, on the streets they use a drug called "Wet," which is a mixture of marijuana and PCP; Pine Ridge has an 80% rate of alcoholism. So all of this physical devastation brings with it a kind of human devastation. If they rest of us don't wake up, and begin to resist, the forces that carried out these assaults within these internal colonies, or these sacrifice zones, since they have now been unleashed on the rest of us, we will of course replicate what happened in Biblical terms to our "neighbor." There has been a failure on the part of the Left in this country to stand up to the assault carried out by both the Democrats, and Republicans. Of course, Clinton was one of the worst: he destroyed the welfare system, which under the original welfare system, 70% of the recipients were children; NAFTA, of course, 1994, the greatest betrayal of working class people in this country since the Taft-Hartley Act of 1948, which makes it difficult to organize. You know, the Left, or the Liberal-Class, sort of busied itself with the boutique activism of multiculturalism and gender politics--all of which I support--but forgot about the primacy of justice. And because of that, what's happened to our "under-classes," is now happening to the middle-class.
Emanuele: Now, you write in that same chapter, "The Civil Rights Movement was a legal victory, not an economic one. And the economic barriers remain rigid and impenetrable for the bottom 2/3 of African Americans, whose lives are worse today, than when King marched in Selma." You go on the mention that 1/3 of African American males, at some point in their lives, will go to prison within the United States. While the school system in Chicago is now more segregated than during the Civil Rights Era. Can you talk about the difference between "legal" and "economic" victories? In addition, further along in the chapter you mention the work of theologian James Cone, and his work The Cross and the Lynching Tree , and further along, the work of Father Doyle and the Sacred Heart School. Can you talk about the importance of religion and theology in the African American community?
Hedges: Well, what a lot of white Christians don't grasp, and this is the importance of the theologian such as James Cone, is that the black Christian tradition is radically different from the white Christian tradition. I, as a former seminarian, would argue that the Gospel was written by the oppressed, for the oppressed, as was the Hebrew Bible. These were communities that endured horrific repression, and were deeply sensitive to what it meant to be oppressed. So, Cone writes in The Cross and the Lynching Tree, about the long nightmare of terror, through lynching, that was unleashed on the African American community, and how that embodied, for African Americans, the crucifixion. And yet white churches and white theologians were utterly unable to see the connection between an innocent body on a tree, in their midst, and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The whole story of Moses leading forty-years into the wilderness--that carried a whole different import if you were a slave, or suffering in the South, being disposed by Jim Crow laws. I think Cone is right: I think while it uses the same language, iconography and even symbols, it means something very different to African Americans.